For three years I lived just an hour outside of Australia's ginger capital—Buderim, Queensland. My first trip there was not in pursuit of fresh ginger, however, but of wedding rings. The jeweler's studio happened to be in a lush tropical setting, surrounded by groves of leafy ginger. My husband-to-be and I arrived to find out it was harvest season—and that the rings weren't ready. To stave off disappointment, the jeweler sent us home with an enormous basket of ginger. Its fresh, lemony, pungent aroma wafted through the car, fueling my imagination with gingery possibilities.
Ginger isn't just for Asian cooking
For years, fresh ginger was something I used in Asian cooking. Then I moved to Australia, where the highly creative, fusion style of cooking inspired me to think outside the proverbial box of Asian standards and discover new and innovative ways of using ginger. I was pleased to learn that ginger has few limitations.
Fresh ginger's tangy freshness, light spiciness, warmth, and mellow sweetness complement a range of dishes, from sweet to savory. It can be a dominant flavoring, or it can work in conjunction with other flavors. Beyond the traditional Asian applications like stir-fries and dipping sauces, ginger is equally at home with such an everyday ingredient as maple syrup. I like to combine the two to make a glaze for meats and vegetables. Ginger can also be infused into milk and cream to make a tangy custard or ice cream. Even the unlikely combination of tomatoes and ginger works well. The sweetness of the tomatoes is a nice counterpoint to the sharp, spicy notes of the ginger. I can't think of a fruit or vegetable that can't be paired with fresh ginger. And ginger has a natural affinity to meats, poultry, and fish.
Preparing ginger for use in a recipe
Ginger can be sliced into planks or matchsticks, chopped, grated, puréed, and minced, depending on its final destination.
I use minced, chopped, or thin matchsticks of ginger when I want a textural component as well as flavor. The thin slivers of ginger roasted with root vegetables become irresistibly crisp and chewy, while the small bits of minced ginger in the couscous pilaf recipe provide occasional bursts of warm, spicy flavor. Planks or slices are perfect for infusing flavor into a broth.
When it's just the flavor and essence of the ginger that I want to capture, I grate it. In the salmon recipe, I add grated ginger to the almost-finished tomato sauce, infusing it with a heady aroma and bright freshness. I also use grated ginger in salad dressings and dipping sauces, or whenever the ginger should have a smooth, nonfibrous consistency to readily blend in with other ingredients.
Planks: Diagonally slice the ginger across the fibers to cut it into planks, which I use to infuse flavor into liquid. Cutting planks is also the first step to making matchsticks or a mince.
Matchsticks: To cut ginger into julienne-style matchsticks, stack the ginger planks (at left) and slice them into thin strips.
Minced: To take the ginger to the chopped or minced stage, turn the stack of matchstick pieces 90 degrees and chop to the consistency you want.
Grated: To grate ginger, I like using a Microplane (available at most kitchen stores as well as online at www.cooking.com
). It does an amazing job of grating even the most fibrous knob of ginger into a juicy, paste-like consistency.